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Fish-Cleaning Knives

Knives for every preference.

By Gibbs Milliken

Ask a professional fish cleaner what knife to use and you usually will get a strong personal preference. Most select a high-grade stainless steel knife that holds an edge and can be sterilized after use without deteriorating the handle. Some like a long-blade, flexible knife; others use a shorter or rigid version. The characteristics of pro fish knives are similar with a sleek, simple blade solidly mold-mounted in a flared safety handle of durable composite material.

For convenience and cutting ease, many anglers have switched to the electric reciprocating twin-blade serrated designs. The different styles run on either 110 AC, 12 volt DC, or have an internal rechargeable battery. The newest standard AC unit is the Saltwater Piranha ($39.95, model MT-1208, Mister Twister, (800) 344-6331, www.mistertwister.com) featuring more than twice the serrations along the cutting edges and excellent for cleaning either fresh or large saltwater fishes. Another new design is the cordless-rechargeable Sportsman's Knife ($69.95, model 560030H, Angler's Best, (888) 241-0597, www.motowasher.com). This heavy-duty model can be used anywhere, anytime. It will run for a full hour on one charge of its memory-free NiMH battery. The handle containing the motor and battery is balanced forward and rubberized for comfort. It comes as a set in a molded carry-case with an extra pair of smaller blades and AC rapid (three-hour) charger unit.

Some fish cleaners feel they lose too much of the delicate meat with the thick-bladed electrics and insist on using traditional manual knives. These filleting knives run the gamut from high-end professional outfitters' blades like the Grayling ($96.97, Knives of Alaska, (800) 572-0980, www.knivesofalaska.com) or the larger curved Coho ($104.97, antler handle or $39.97, rubberized Suregrip handle, Knives of Alaska). These not only perform well, they do it in style with classic antler scales, distinctive serrated-tip blades, and quality leather sheaths. Also well-crafted is the structured red "stag" bone handle Bear Fillet Knife ($60, model #567, Bear MGC Cutlery, (800) 844-3034). These knives are field-proven types you may remember from your grandfather's tackle box.

Folding fish knives are compact and convenient to have in a tackle box. They serve for both cutting bait and cleaning the catch. The Fishlocker Folding Fillet Knife ($31, Buck Knives, (800) 326-2825, www.buckknives.com) has a long, lightweight textured plastic handle and positive back-locking 6-inch blade. Thoroughly cleaning this type of knife is difficult. It requires the use of a spray of high-pressure water to remove organic debris trapped inside the blade compartment, plus treating with chemical disinfectants and oiling the moving parts after use.

The more utilitarian fixed-blade designs with hard stainless steel blades and durable, non-slip safety handles are often dishwasher-proof, functional, and reasonably priced. The flexible 12.5-inch blade Pro Fisherman ($19.99-$24.75, model 1470T, Schrade Cutlery, (800) 351-9658, www.schradeknives.com) is popular for good reason: it has all the above features plus a quality ballistic cloth nylon sheath with a safety liner. Among commercial fish cleaners, one favorite is the Forschner Fillet Knife ($13.10, model 40618 (no sheath), Forschner, (800) 243-4032, www.swissarmy.com), which has remained unchanged for many decades of dependable service. Another combination of functional design plus good looks is the Browning Featherweight Fillet Knife ($39.50, model 906, Browning, (800) 333-3288, www.browning.com). This fine AUS-8A stainless knife has a curved wood/Zytel composite handle and protective lined top-grain fitted leather sheath.

For safety: Protect your hands when working with a wet, slippery fish with textured or non-slip grips, guard-flares on the hilt or a safety glove like the fabric/steel mesh Fillet Glove ($10, Normark/Rapala, (800) 874-4451, www.normark.com) on the gripping hand. While preparing fish products, even small cuts and punctures can become quickly infected if not properly cleaned and treated with antibiotic ointment.

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